Saturday, 6 October 2012

Black Magic Rites

1972, Italy, Directed by Renato Polselli
Colour, Running Time: 98 minutes
Review Source: Blu-ray, Region A, Redemption; Video: 1.78:1 1080p 24fps, Audio: LPCM Mono

It goes something like this: Several hundred years ago Isabel (Rita Calderoni from the nearly as fu*ked up Nude For Satan and the much more coherent Delirium) was burned at the stake while her lover (Italy's own Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mickey Hargitay, also from Delirium) looks on helplessly. In the present day a group of Satanists led by the descendant of Isabel’s lover attempt to resurrect her still rotting corpse through sacrifice of not-so-innocent victims, generally taken from some sort of gathering that appears to be taking place in a nearby castle (I think).
How do you sum up a plot that comes across as entirely incomprehensible? I’m not sure but I don’t think it matters so much in this case: it’s a psychedelic whirlwind of insane events and imagery that just has the viewer sitting there shaking his/her head at the fact that anything like this was ever committed to celluloid. There is plenty of nudity and some of the strangest characters ever created - one particularly potty woman is found hysterical on the stairs after supposedly being assaulted by a monster with ‘green hair, like all monsters’ (???) that nobody, including us, has ever seen. There’s something to do with vampirism in here too - apparently there are some family ties to Dracula even claimed along the way. Even as far as Euro Horror is concerned this film is bonkers with almost randomly strung-together sequences of celluloid that could easily have been shot by somebody off their merry head on drugs, but it sort of works as an escape into psychologically unbalanced surrealism and is helped if your perception is chemically manipulated at the time (in my case, inebriation). The late Polselli has done some interesting work to be honest - the aforementioned Delirio Caldo/Delirium (1972) is pretty good and comparatively 'normal'! Previously he also made a more conventional Italian Gothic horror with L’Amante del Vampiro/Vampire and the Ballerina (1960), a nice piece that staggers around in the same ballpark as Playgirls and the Vampire.

The original mouthful of a title for this film was Riti, Magie Nere e Segrete Orge Nel Trecento (or Black Magic Rites & the Secret Orgies of the 14th Century). The print of the old US DVD by Redemption (entitled Reincarnation of Isabel) was apparently ultrasonically cleaned before the digital master was created - apart from an excess of dirt/damage visible throughout it didn't look too bad considering the source, being moderately detailed. Now under its Black Magic Rites moniker (as was the UK DVD plus a later release by Redemption in the US) on Kino Lorber/Redemption's Blu-ray, the disc is bare bones (a few trailers for a couple of the Rollin and Bava BDs that the company have also put out) the image quality is improved in terms of detail and colour, though it's still quite scratchy and damaged (not something that bothers me personally). Aside from the unfortunate cropping (albeit slight) of the image to 1.78:1 (damn that ratio!) the Blu-ray is a worthwhile step up from whatever you owned before. As with those earlier discs we thankfully get the Italian language soundtrack with very clear English subtitles (BD subtitles are much clearer and neater than the digitised looking text we had to put up with on DVD). If you like Euro Horror and don’t mind wayward plots that make virtually no sense you might get something out of the film.

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